For outsiders anyway, Vilnius is a hard city to pin down.
It's not quite Eastern European, not quite Scandinavian, not Russian, and not German. It's
not even quite Lithuanian. This ambiguity, the diversity of influences, actually gives the
city its unique character and charm.
As many travel writers are prone to pointing out, Lithuania's
capital has a certain earthiness that both Riga and Tallinn lack. For this and other
reasons, many visitors to the region tend to fall madly in love with Vilnius, pegging it
as their favorite Baltic city of them all. As London's Sunday Times recently
commented: "Vilnius may be the most underrated capital in all of Eastern Europe."
Today, while the capital is seeing some of its fastest development, and as old town
renovations pick up pace, it is thankfully not becoming too sanitized. Amid the winding
cobblestone streets of the old city, you can still feel you've been transported back to
the 12th or 18th century, depending on what street you happen to turn down.
Out of all its historical experiences, the Lithuanians like to
emphasize the city's days in the early Middle Ages when it was the center of a mighty
Lithuanian monarchy. Vilnius residents are conscious of this glorious past and tend to
bring it up every chance they get; they tend to de-emphasize the city's days of heavy
Lithuanian population: 3.5 million; 80% Lithuanian; 9%
Russian-speaking; 7% Polish.
Vilnius population: 580,000
Other large cities: Kaunas 414,000; Klaipeda, 203,000,
Total Lithuanian territory: 65,300 sq. km., about twice the size of
Main Religions: vast majority of Lithuanians and Poles are Roman
Catholic. Many Russians are Orthodox.
Climate: July and August are the warmest months, with temperatures
usually just under 20°C (68°F); the coldest months are January and February, with 0°C
Lithuania, like the other Baltics, has made economic strides almost
beyond anyone’s imagination since 1991. Inflation at the time
approached a bone-chilling 1000 percent a year and economic growth was
dropping like a rock. But despite predictions that Lithuania would never
be able to save itself from economic ruin, it has. GDP growth was 9 percent
The stereotype is that Lithuanians are an emotional, sometimes hot-headed people, at least
compared to their neighbors to the north. Warmer and more talkative than the average
Estonian, Lithuanians are also more likely to get openly irritable if you rub them the
wrong way. During the drive for independence in the early '90s, Lithuania gained worldwide
fame and sympathy for its gutsy, David-and-Goliath stand against Moscow. Many regarded
Lithuania as the most courageous of the former Soviet republics, the only one consistently
unwilling to bend her principles in the face of blood-curdling Russian threats.
Lithuanians were staunchly pagan until the 1300s,
when they still worshiped the likes of Perkunas, god of thunder. They've been
staunch Catholics for going on six centuries, but many still speak with a tinge of regret
about the loss of their heathen rituals.
In medieval times, Lithuania was a major European power. By sheer military might and
diplomatic skill, Lithuania by 1400 was an empire stretching to the Black Sea; it included
large tracts of present-day Ukraine, Belarus and Russia. This grand history leads some
Lithuanian leaders to act peculiarly as if they still represent a great power.
are still pulling their hair out trying to discover the origin of
Lithuania, or Lietuva in Lithuanian. A Latin form of the
word, Lituae, was first used in a chronicle in 1009 describing
how an archbishop was struck over the head by pagans in Lituae
and then went to heaven. A 16th century scholar associated the word
with the Latin word litus, or tubes--a possible
reference to wooden trumpets played by Lithuanian tribes. Modern
scholars tend to brush this explanation aside, saying, instead, that
Lithuania must have derived from the name of a river.
The first recorded use of the word Baltic was by 11th century
German chronicler Adamus Bremen, who, writing in Latin, referred to Mare
Balticum, the Baltic Sea. There are several versions about where
he picked up the term. One is that he got it from the Danish word for
belt or sash, belte--referring, perhaps, to the belt-like shape
of the sea itself. Others say Baltic came from the Lithuanian
word baltas, or white--as in the white, wind-swept sea.
Lithuanian is one of the world's oldest surviving languages, and is distantly related to
Sanskrit, a religious and literary language in India. The words for god and day, for
instance, are devas and dina in Sanskrit and dievas and
diena in Lithuanian. Because it
has changed less than other languages, Lithuanian is a linguistic link to the past and has
a special place in the study of languages. It's one of two languages in the Baltic branch
of Indo-European languages; the other is Latvian. Lithuanian is also related to
now-extinct Old Prussian. It's not related to Estonian. You will fare well if you speak
Russia; fluency in English is increasing steadily.
Ar jus kalbate angliskai?/Do you speak English?
As nesuprantu/I dont understand
Mano vardas.../My name is...
Kek kainuoja?/How much is it?
Dar prasau/More please
vienas/one du/two trys/three keturi/four penki/five
sesi/six septyni/seven astuoni/eight devyni/nine
desmit/ten simtas/hundred tukstantis/thousand